There is an incredibly apt phrase -- "the line of inquiry" -- in the press materials for singer-songwriter Scott Walker's latest LP, Bish Bosch.
It's difficult to think of a better way to describe the idiosyncratic path one-time superstar Walker has tread over the last quarter century, moving from swooning, baroque pop songs to demanding, post-modern aural collages.
The intensity of his focus, the sense that each new album further refines a goal only he can perceive, and his willingness to pare a song down to little more than a sound effect and his voice is admirable, particularly in an era of more is more excess. Purely artistic pursuits -- lines of inquiry, if you will -- are an increasingly rare breed, and as such, should be celebrated.
For his first LP in six years (which he began writing in 2009), the 69-year-old Walker retains much of the uncompromising stance found on 2006's The Drift and 1995's Tilt, which is to say you'll never hear any of these songs in heavy rotation. Perfumed with dread, salted with terrifying bursts of noise and filled with airless silences, Bish Bosch unfolds over nine lengthy tracks -- SDSS14+13B (Zercon, a Flagpole Sitter), punctuated with pregnant pauses, stretches for more than 20 minutes -- that often feel like movements in a symphony. The 10-minute Corps de Blah moves through a series of harrowing interior spaces, punctuating with shrieking strings and finishing with the sound of a blade being drawn across stone.
Working with co-producer Peter Walsh, musical director Mark Warman and a band made up of drummer Ian Thomas, guitarists Hugh Burns and James Stevenson, bassist John Giblin and percussionist Alasdair Malloy, Walker meticulously assembles his songs to draw the listener's attention to even the smallest detail. Employing repetition (often to the point of exasperation) and dissonant, atonal sounds -- Walker is fond of detuning guitars and making them sound as if they are being played with pads of steel wool -- Bish Bosch favors organic experimentation over reliance upon digital trickery.
Apart from the unique sonic atmosphere, Walker's lyrical style favors the elliptical and, like a poet, he often uses words for how they sound, rather than what they mean. Divorced from the songs, the lines sound like placeholders -- "Pain is alone," howls Walker during Phrasing; Epizootics! abruptly concludes with Walker crooning "heavenly flower" -- but in the context of the record, Walker's approach captivates.
The 73-minute Bish Bosch isn't an album to throw on during your next party, nor is it something that can be digested in small pieces. Walker's music commands your attention, and demands consumption as a whole. It's a stirring, unsettling undertaking, a thrilling deconstruction of what pop music can be that reveals more with each subsequent listen.